The Premier League season starting pistol has fired and for a temporary moment in time, Arsenal is top of the league, with 2 goals, and a lovely clean sheet.
We’ve also chalked off one of the toughest away days of the season. No one underestimated Crystal Palace before the game, so no one should after. They are a very aggressive side of extremely powerful and fast players. Going to the noisiest away ground on a Friday night is a very tough start by any standards.
We didn’t make a meal of it this time.
Arsenal were far better equipped and balanced through a blend of upgrades and internal solutions.
The superstar internal solution was William Saliba. A man that cost Arsenal £25m as a teenager 2 years ago made his Premier League debut and he was outstanding. You are not supposed to come into a Premier League defence at 21 years old and play the way he played. Outside his outrageous technical ability, it was the calmness of thought and stunning composure that stood out. He was so good, VVD followed him on Instagram after the match.
Last season, if we lacked Ben White or Gabriel in the middle, there was trouble. Against Crystal Palace, for a debut, what Saliba did was truly outstanding. People do have to temper the excitement a little bit. He’s a young player, young players have ups and downs, so I hope people will be with him when the inevitable errors land. They certainly haven’t been for Sambi, ESR and Martinelli of late and it’s a bit painful to stomach. If you are a Saliba Ultra, you should tune into our Youtube to see Johnny Cochrane smugging it up, a sight to behold.
The big tactical weakness for Arsenal was at fullback. Ben White is not a right back, but we know he can play there. For me, there aren’t many tougher wingers to go up against in the league than Zaha. As expected, minute one, it was all about putting the Ivorian in one vs one situations… but Benny Blanco stood up to the challenge most of the game. No one won more duels on the pitch than him. He played the dark arts at times. But overall, Ben White had the player under control. There was only one moment when he put Eze in… but there was a save, so no harm done. It was interesting to hear Arteta say that Ben White loves playing right back after the game. I guess if you have the ability to carry the ball, you don’t get to do that much as a centre back, in our system, you can invert and join the attack more often. Tomiyasu has an U21 game today to get some match fitness… at least it’s not vital he’s back like it was last season.
It should not go unnoted that Zinchenko also had a very, very good game. There were some misplaced passes that were unusual, but that was rustiness. I guess simply put, he does things with the ball that Kieran Tierney can’t. His passing is extremely crisp and he gives us more options going forward. He had a very assured debut. It’s just so good to see players like that lining up for Arsenal. He’s in his prime. What a talent.
Before I get onto the defence as a whole, let’s not leave without chatting Aaron Ramsdale. He’s been a bit inconsistent this year. He brings problems on himself by trying a little too hard with his passing, when he fucks up, it flusters his game. He did it again yesterday, he was a little ambitious with an early pass that led to a Palace chance. But after that, he leaned in with two outrageous saves. The first was a brilliant one-handed parry when Edouard had a free header. The second was a one vs one from Eze that he did brilliantly with. Those were BIG saves. The sort we expect of the best keeper in England. The sort we’ll need more of this season. I also loved his confidence dealing with crosses. Big, brave, and bold… like his dad’s hat attire.
The first 30 minutes were exceptional from Arsenal. The beautiful football people said Arteta didn’t want to play was fully on show. The only way I can describe the play is buttery. We moved the ball between the lines with outrageously crisp precision and confidence. Crystal Palace couldn’t press us because there was always an outlet and every player was brave. Honestly, at times, I couldn’t believe I was watching Arsenal play that way, it was really special. The thing that really excited me is that late in the game, under intense pressure as legs faded, we still stuck to our principles playing out the back. There was a lovely bit of play between Ramsdale, Partey and Saliba. Last season, we might have hoofed it. That shows maturity.
Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka really were a couple of rocks in the midfield. I thought the Ghanaian was close to being man of the match. He’s on top of his game, his one-touch passing is unplayable, and the sharpness of mind to control the waves of attack kept us very secure. Granit Xhaka was also really solid, some were in my feed calling him terrible… people, that is a really dated view in 2022. He had an 85% pass completion rate, he made the most passes in the attacking third, he won all three of his aerial duels, made 5 ball recoveries, and he was the most fouled Arsenal player. He was booked for diving in a passage of play where the ref played advantage for Arsenal because of a dive. Apparently, Xhaka is a booking, Eze’s two dives were not. There’s a Xhaka tax in the Premier League. Didn’t stop him showing up, putting his body on the line, and keeping things ticking over.
Gabriel Jesus didn’t score, but my word is he has the things we’ve been missing. He is a bag of chaos. He can go deep, out wide, play through the middle, lurk on the edge of the box… he is our Luis Suarez. A total nightmare of a player. There are two things I love about him, firstly, he can create something out of nothing. There was a moment in the first half when he went on a mazy run which led to Martinelli blasting his shot wide. Lacazette couldn’t do that. The second thing I love is his ability to occupy defenders. He chased down a ball in the second half between two Palace defenders, won it through sheer force of personality, and put Odegaard into contention. He is small but mighty. And he never stops working.
Martinelli was a difference maker in the first half, I still want more from him, he needs to impose himself a little more, I want to see some of that Bang-Bang we love. Saka was also a little quiet, but he was a difference maker forcing an own goal. Also worth noting that Eddie came on and carried on doing Eddie things. He was the pre-assist for Saka when he came on. The kid has great link play, need to see him getting starts this season.
There are some things we could be doing better. I think we still need to be more ruthless, we sat back a little bit after we scored, we know that doesn’t come from the manager, that’s a fallback behaviour the squad had last season when they’d go a goal up. We also need to kill teams earlier. All our players need to do better in front of goal, particularly Odegaard who squandered two really good opportunities in a bit of a disappointing game by his standards.
Still, take into account it takes 6-8 games to get truly match fit, so there’s a lot to come from this side, and there are still new relationships being worked out on the pitch.
We don’t yet have the fear factor teams like Liverpool and City have. But we are getting close. Arsenal are a nightmare to play against. We are getting close to being relentless. It’s hard to get chances against us. It’s hard to press us. We’re unreal off the ball. Now we have difference makers all across the park.
Arsenal still need to do a deal for Youri Tielemans and we need a better option to rotate Saka with. Nico is not the answer and Sambi is too early in his #8 journey to be our rotation option with Granit Xhaka.
Back to the result: A little context.
That’ll be the hardest game we play until at least the United game in September. Big teams are going to go there this season and get battered. We went there, controlled the game for large parts, were more clinical in front of goal, kept a clean sheet, and debuted 3 players without missing a beat. We did that missing KT, Tomi, and ESR from the starting 11.
The result was even better when you see that Liverpool just dropped two points away from home against Fulham.
Next up, Leicester. Maddison in talks with Newcastle, Youri T pining for Arsenal, Fofana protecting his limbs for the Chelsea move… they are a MESS. Which makes them dangerous. We need a BIG performance for our first home game.
FINAL NOTE: The aways support was electric. We aren’t a banter club in 2022 and our fans home and away are amongst the best in the league. I LOVE BEING A GOONER RIGHT NOW.
Check out our On The Whistle Podcast. We have a NEW brand design via the excellent Dear Future agency.
We needed to professionalize the brand identity and do something that’d make us stand out from the sea of red in the app store. We’ve gone with black and gold this season, matching to the fastest-selling away kit of all time. We’ll rotate between THE AOP and The Arsenal Opinion.
As part of the refresh, I’ve changed the Le Grove logo, so it all feels cohesive with the podcast.
The logo is great because it’s an idea. Le Grove has DNA in fan opinion, The AOP has followed suit with the LIVE chat, so it all connects well together. Hope you like it.
The podcast is Johnny, Pedro and Matt. We’ll have a great season together. So hopefully you can join the Patreon for the Before the Whistle’s and join us for the Premier League LIVE On The Whistle podcasts we do right after the game.